Ashleigh Young was a passionate sportswoman when a common respiratory illness took her life, but her heartbroken family say they may never have closure.

After days in intensive care following an asthma attack, Ashleigh’s parents Graham and Bronwyn Young were told there was nothing that could be done to save her.

The Adelaide family said they never believed they’d lose their 31-year-old daughter to asthma and still need to come to terms with the fact that they may never know what triggered her final attack.

“I never thought she’d die from an asthma attack,” Mrs Young said.

Ashleigh Kate Young died from an asthma attack on December 14, 2023.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Five months after her daughter’s death, Mrs Young said there was a big void in her life that would never be filled.

“She wasn’t just my daughter, she was my best friend, and we did everything together,” Mrs Young said.

Fighting back tears, she said she missed her daughter’s presence and the way she went about life.

She now has an orange rose to remember her – it was Ashleigh’s favourite colour.

Ashleigh’s family have planted an orange rose bush in her honour. (ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Ashleigh was the director of sport at an all-girls school and she was involved in the Norwood Football Club’s women’s program.

Mr Young said he was proud of his daughter’s contribution to sport by providing pathways for young girls, and that a scholarship had been set up in her name.

“I think the thing that made her so special was that she was so family orientated, very sociable, had an infectious laugh … one of those people that when she walked into a room, the room would just light up,” Mr Young said.

When he received the news that she was in hospital and fighting for her life, he was shocked and confused.

He said Ashleigh had grown up with asthma but had managed it well and was always on top of her medication.

Following her death, her parents visited her asthma specialist in an attempt to find out what may have triggered her final attack, but they did not get any answers, with the doctor telling them everything looked to be fine at her last appointment.

Ashleigh Young provided pathways for girls in sport.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

“I don’t think we’ll ever get closure because they don’t know what the cause was … it’s very difficult,” Mr Young said.

“There’s so many different triggers, you can’t just narrow it down, it could be anything … dust, grass food.”

He said Ashleigh was fortunate and able to stay on top of out-of-pocket medication expenses but felt for those who struggled to cover the costs of living with asthma.

Mrs Young said she thought Ashleigh would grow out of her asthma or that a treatment would be found.

She urged people living with the illness to take it seriously.

Concerning stats

Nigel Cooper, director of programs and partnerships with Asthma Australia, said 467 people died from asthma in 2022.

Almost two thirds of those deaths were women.

Last year’s figures have not been released but Mr Cooper said the 2022 data was the highest asthma casualty rate in Australia in a decade and more than 30 per cent higher than the number of deaths nationally in 2021.

Nigel Cooper says South Australia recorded the highest asthma mortality rate in a decade.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

He said during 2020 and 2021, the asthma mortality rate decreased due to hygiene measures which also stopped the spread of colds and flus – things that can often worsen asthma.

According to a report released to the ABC from Asthma Australia, South Australia had the highest mortality rate in 2022, followed by Western Australia and Queensland.

However, there are no concrete answers as to why there was an increase in deaths.

Possible factors could include climate change, air pollution, weather or bushfire activity, mental and physical health, and personal circumstances.

“It’s something we’d really like to understand more … we don’t know the answer to that research just yet,” Mr Cooper said.

Meanwhile, researchers have discovered sex hormones may play a part in why asthma is affecting more women than men.

Australia has recorded its highest number of asthma deaths in a decade.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Mr Cooper said asthma was the chronic inflammation of and spasms around airways, as well as excessive mucous production.

“What would be the most interesting thing to [find out] is how they got to that state,” he said.

“You can have an asthma death, but you might not be able to attribute it to a particular factor.”

He said he didn’t believe anyone was researching into individual causes of deaths in Australia.

No funding from two states

Mr Cooper said Asthma Australia received federal government funding to operate its schools and young persons program, but not all states had put in funds.

Mr Cooper said the organisation did not receive any direct financial support from the South Australian or Victorian governments – something he hoped would change.

A South Australian health department spokesperson said while no funding arrangements were currently in place, they remained “committed partners” with Asthma Australia to improve the health outcomes for people living with asthma.

While the Victorian health department does not provide continuous funding to Asthma Australia, it said it has partnered with them to deliver specific projects.

Mr Young said he would support anything that could help people living with asthma – including state government investment.

He said he hoped asthma would one day be curable but that would not happen without research and funding.

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